Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday April 21, 2020
Politicians putting partisan interests ahead of safety
Across Canada, and around the world, people are learning how to do things remotely. Things they never would have dreamed they would need to learn. Some very unlikely things — including publishing newspapers and websites.
Churches are meeting remotely. Executives at all levels are doing it. Students of all ages. Doctors, counsellors, financial advisers, planners, scientists and civil servants. Musicians are performing from their basements and home recording studios.
It can be frustrating, and there are a range of indirect problems that can result from working in isolation. But we do it, because it’s what is best from a public health perspective. And that is what the vast majority of us agree is most important right now.
But Canadian Parliamentarians cannot meet remotely, apparently. At least, Andrew Scheer and his Conservatives aren’t supporting virtual parliamentary sessions. Instead, they want a reduced number of MPs to meet in Parliament face to face.
The governing Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois all agree that virtual parliament is doable. The lone holdouts are the Conservatives. A vote was scheduled for late yesterday afternoon that will see an unhappy compromise — MPs will meet together once a week, on Wednesdays, for in-person sittings. There will also be two virtual sessions per week that will include two-hour-and-15-minutes for questioning cabinet ministers, and another session for debating new legislation.
The Conservatives are expected to vote against even this compromise. Instead, they want three in-person sittings per week. Scheer’s defence is that since construction work on the Centre Block can continue, so can face-to-face parliament sittings. “If they can safely renovate the building that houses our parliament then surely we can do our duty to uphold the bedrock of our democracy.”
But why can’t virtual sittings work? Scheer doesn’t have a good answer for that. His best attempt seems to be that virtual sittings aren’t possible immediately and MPs “cannot wait for the weeks and weeks that it may take the House of Commons administration” to provide necessary technology.
But that excuse doesn’t wash either, since House Speaker Anthony Rota has written in a public letter that virtual sittings should be available by May 6.
Given Scheer doesn’t have a sensible answer, the real reason for his resistance to something all other parties can agree on is undoubtedly partisan. Scheer doesn’t want to give up the partisan bear pit that is traditional Parliament, especially Question Period. Doing so takes away his partisan soapbox, and means less face-time on TV.
It would be bad enough if this was just about MPs risking their health and spreading COVID-19. But it’s not just about them. Some support staff — pages, laundry and cafeteria staff for example — won’t need to be recalled. But others, such as broadcast technicians, clerks and interpreters will have to come to work in the West Block. When the House met on Saturday, April 11, 40 additional employees were required so that 32 MPs could do their work at the emergency sitting.
So let’s be entirely clear. Scheer is putting his own partisan interests ahead of public health. Even though the vast majority of Canadians are working hard to live by the distancing recommendations from public health leadership, Scheer is insisting on up to 100 people meeting, and at least in some cases, not being able to practice physical distancing.
There is still a chance that Scheer might relent on this terrible position, perhaps recognizing how the optics make he and his Conservative party look awful. That would be a wise reversal. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)